BBJ: Health experts urge local businesses to help combat misinformation as vaccine rollout continues

Vaccine panelists

Baltimore Business Journal Staff
January 19, 2020

Public health experts from the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University say local business owners can help the Covid-19 vaccine rollout by urging patience and education within their own companies and communities.

Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, said the ongoing rollout of the first two viable Covid-19 vaccines in the U.S. has been an “encouraging ray of hope” that we may be nearing the end of the coronavirus “ordeal.” However, the process has also revealed some new challenges for the nation’s health care institutions. So far, vaccine distribution in Maryland and several other states has moved slowly, and has been plagued by high levels of mistrust and misinformation.

Leaders from Johns Hopkins and UMB told a group of Baltimore business leaders Jan. 19 one of the ways they can help things run more smoothly and efficiently is by being understanding about the complexities and pace of vaccinations, and by helping to combat widespread misinformation about the vaccines.

Maragakis was joined by Dr. Anna P. Durbin, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Dr. Kathleen Neuzil, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at UMB; and Dr. Bruce Jarrell, UMB’s president, for a virtual panel discussion about the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines hosted by the Greater Baltimore Committee on Jan. 19. The group shared some of their personal experiences with receiving the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, answered common questions and debunked a few misconceptions about the first available and incoming vaccines.

Among the biggest concerns about vaccine safety stems from the notable speed at which the available vaccines were developed. Durbin explained that the development process was significantly accelerated because of all the private and federal funding thrown at the problem and because there was less financial risk for the companies involved in vaccine development.

A process that would typically take many years and several rounds of fundraising was able to move much more quickly because companies like Pfizer and Modern did not have to deal with the usual financial constraints — not because the vaccine makers cut corners or neglected certain safety measures, Durbin said.

Neuzil, who was part of the federal vaccine rollout effort known as Operation Warp Speed, addressed another common concern: vaccine side effects. She said what health care providers have seen so far is the majority of people who receive vaccines experience temporary injection-site pain, with about a third of people having symptoms ranging from fatigue and muscle aches to fever and nausea. She stressed that any such symptoms subside in just a few days and as long as vaccine distributors are transparent about what people can expect, the “side effects are well worth the efficacy.”

Jarrell, who received both doses of Moderna’s vaccine last year as part of a clinical trial, has said he is entering his fifth month of being vaccinated and “feeling great,” having experienced no serious concerns.

At least two more vaccine candidates are undergoing large scale clinical trials and may be cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization by the end of February, Durbin said, including one produced by AstraZeneca and another from Johnson & Johnson. With those added resources, she said she is “cautiously optimistic” inoculation rates can accelerate and most adults will gain access to vaccinations by mid-summer.

In anticipation of those additional vaccines coming to market, Durbin and Neuzil cautioned local leaders that the next batch of vaccines may not demonstrate the same 95%-and-higher efficacy ratings, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior to the ones already on the market in terms of helping to build up widespread immunization.

Neuzil pointed out that if a vaccine has only 85% efficacy but it doesn’t require extremely low temperature refrigeration like the Moderna and Pfizer options, or if there is enough of it to vaccinate 10 times as many people, it could still be extremely valuable in the fight against Covid-19.

Durbin said getting as many people vaccinated as possible — no matter what kind of vaccine is most widely accessible — is the best way to keep people well and help communities get back to normal life.

“All of these vaccines are extraordinarily effective at that…I’m confident that each and every one of these vaccines is going to induce high level of protection,” Durbin said.

Durbin hopes that as more and more people have positive vaccine experiences, and more accurate information about the drugs continues to circulate, fewer people will be wary about or unwilling to get vaccinated.

In the meantime, she and other health officials emphasized that local leaders need to continue to urge responsible infection prevention practices — mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing — in their businesses and beyond.

To read the complete article, visit the Baltimore Business Journal website.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal

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